Review of NASCAR Heat 4 — I want you to build me a car

For what’s felt like a long time, the NASCAR gaming market has endured a bumpy ride.  There are plenty of really good racing games/sims out there that happen to include stock car racing, but games that are dedicated to NASCAR have been very rough around the edges lately.  And due to low budgets and game-engine difficulties, 704Games has had a very tough time giving the NASCAR Heat series the successful pit stop it’s been in need of.  However, after this year’s iteration was announced and its new features were slowly being revealed, longtime NASCAR gamers like myself had plenty of valid reasons to get revved up.  And now that NASCAR Heat 4 has taken the green flag, it’s time to find out if it lives up to the hype.  Let’s pull those belts tight and get into the meat and potatoes.

I’m droppin’ the hammer

The most noticeable changes in this year’s game are the changes to the racing itself.  The weight and aerodynamics of the cars have a more realistic feeling, the contact physics aren’t nearly as frustrating they’ve been in the past, and multi-groove racing has been successfully implemented.  It should also be noted that there are different tire compounds for different tracks, which in turn makes each track noticeably different in terms of tire wear.  Drafting has also been greatly emphasized with the concept of draft partners.  As the race progresses, your HUD will inform you if AI cars are lining up and asking to join forces with you.  Slipstreaming is highly important in stock car racing, and Heat 4 does an excellent job taking that importance into account.

The racing in this year’s game is absolutely awesome, and thankfully there’s plenty of deep modes to race in.  The career mode is mostly the same as its been in previous games, except that the interface has been polished up and you can choose which of the four leagues you’ll be starting your career in.  Also returning is the challenge mode, where you recreate/rewrite the finishes of recent real-life NASCAR races.  The incentive this time around is that you unlock “race-winning” paint schemes for each challenge you complete, which brings back memories of NASCAR games from EA Sports and Atari.  Speaking of EA Sports games, the championship mode now has special types of short seasons that you can take part in.  Sadly, the ability to make your own season hasn’t been granted yet, but never say never.  And if racing against AI isn’t enough for you, you’ll be pleased to know that the 40-player online mode has been given some polish.

Shake and bake

The graphics in this year’s game give a greater sense of speed, even though the framerate slows down from time to time when you’ve got heavy traffic near you.  You even get day-to-night transitions during races, but the catch is that you can only see them if you race with the multi-stage format.  While the visuals definitely won’t please everybody, the audio is absolutely stellar.  Thanks to the FMOD program, the sounds of the engines, crashes, and track surfaces are more realistic than ever.

I feel like I’m ready to roll

After a few blown tires, 704Games and Monster Games have finally given the NASCAR Heat series a true revival.  I personally find this to be the best dedicated NASCAR game I’ve played since NASCAR Racing 2003 Season.  And considering just how much I loved that final hurrah from Papyrus Racing Games, what I just said about Heat 4 is incredibly high praise and it’s not hyperbolic whatsoever.  If you’re a racing game fanatic of any sort, NASCAR Heat 4 is well-deserving of a spot in your gaming garage.  Boogity boogity boogity…Let’s go racin’, gamers!

Starting and Parking — A discussion about the many flaws in NASCAR Heat 3

If you review videogames, you’ll no doubt have at least one time when you don’t want to hate a certain game but then feel you have no choice but to write about all the things that irk you about said game; You try numerous times to enjoy whatever you’re playing and ignore the issues that hound your experience, but then wave the white flag in exhaustion. This is the type of article on Silver Soul Gaming I didn’t want to write, but I’m at a point where I need to get it over with. I know that was a lengthy preface, but such a preface is needed before I go on a lengthy lecture about why NASCAR Heat 3 is full of issues and feeling like a no-fun grind.

Now before I get into the meat and potatoes here, I need to give a disclaimer; Everything that I’m writing here is based on my own point of view when NASCAR Heat 3. If you’re reading this article, please understand that I’m just trying to give my honest opinions and not trying to shame others for enjoying this racing game; Furthermore, if you’re one of those people who are very sensitive to people having negative views about games you like, this article will contain nothing of importance to you. With that out of the way, let’s continue on…

Just barely passing inspection

Before you ask, I won’t be comparing this game to today’s sims like iRacing nor oldies like NASCAR Racing 2003 Season; This is a mass-market racer that aims to be both realistic and accessible, and it gets the job done in that area. The driving itself feels satisfactory when you don’t touch the track’s slippery apron nor get subjected to the irritating ping-pong contact physics. You got pit stops, car setups, flags, a fuel tank, a tire-wear model, and a detailed damage system for the car’s body, radiator, and engine; Almost every obligatory thing in realistic racers is here, I can’t argue with that.

There’s no doubt that Heat 3 also has a truckload of licenses; All the tracks in the top three series (And a nine-track dirt racing league) are here, not to mention the biggest names in current-day NASCAR. Each of the four leagues have unique vehicle stats for top speed, acceleration, and handling. Again, credit where credit is due.

A whole garage of modes and depth

In terms of offline modes, this racer does have a good toy box; You’ve got quick races (Solo or with a friend), championship, challenges, create-a-car, and a humongous career mode. If you’ve played any NASCAR career mode, you know the drill; Work your way through four series, attract fans and sponsors, build cars, hire team members, upgrade your race shop, and get hired by bigger teams. Deep career modes are a must in mass-market racers, and Heat 3 delivers in spades.

The engine finally sputters

Now in terms of where this game swings and misses, let’s start with the AI drivers; I will give them credit for being fast and competitive, especially when you crank up the difficulty to 105. But in terms of how smart and competent they are, they race like you’re playing Burnout (Not that that’s a bad game, it’s far from bad); They will shove you into walls with reckless abandon and take full advantage of the aforementioned contact physics just to screw with you. Also, whoever at Monster Games is responsible for the AI cars plowing into you when you spin out of control needs a stern talking-to; I’ve lost count of how many times my car has been heavily damaged thanks to the AI going into Crash Mode when they see me sliding around like I’m driving on vegetable oil. Another huge annoyance is when an AI driver (Or another human driver for that matter) shoves you down the track and into pit road; When that happens, you have absolutely no choice but to go through the pit stop and serve your speeding penalty, which will probably make you want to curse up a storm regardless of how many children are around you. But what stinks most of all is that every offline mode in this game feels like a grind just because of the masochistic AI; It’s like the game is telling you, “We have lots of depth in our modes of play, but you’re gonna have to deal with these crazy AI drivers to enjoy said modes!” Not ideal for a realistic racing game, wouldn’t you say?

“But Preston,” you might be saying, “there’s online racing too! You don’t have to deal with bad AI there, right?” And I’m with you on that, I prefer racing with real players over AI drivers; But holy ravioli, the online multiplayer in Heat 3 is, to put it bluntly, pretty half-baked. I can accept random players in unranked races driving unfairly, but dealing with bad drivers in ranked (Or in this case, eSports) races crosses a line; And the reason I say that is because you get a letter grade and leaderboard rank depending on your best race time in one day, but it does not determine who your next opponents are. Every eSports lobby is set up by a player (Not the devs themselves) with a pre-determined set of rules, and it’s on from there. Compared to ranked races in titles like iRacing and Gran Turismo Sport, this eSports system is an unfinished mess. I’ve always maintained that the best races are the ones with a big group of friends that you know will race cleanly, but even that can be ruined when someone gets shoved into the pits or exploits an area on the track where they can cut corners with no penalty. And if for some reason you want to race with both AI and multiple friends, you may as well forget it because the AI is always at their lowest level and that can’t be adjusted. One more annoyance is that when you disable the stability assist in a lobby, the drivers who use stability must go to the options and turn it off themselves, which is extremely frustrating considering there’s a one-minute timer whenever two players are in the lobby and waiting for the race to begin; I know it’s probably a limitation of the Unity engine, but it’s still something that irks me and probably lots of other players too.

If you ain’t first…Well, you know

The TL;DR of all of this is that I feel that this NASCAR game has some good ideas on paper, but they aren’t executed to their full potential; I don’t hate this game, but I can’t help but notice these glaring flaws and it’s kind of my duty to talk about them on the Internet. And as I said before — If you enjoy this game, you are not wrong in any way for that; You don’t need me to tell you that, but I’m telling you anyway. I hope 704Games and Monster Games will go back to the drawing board (Or their garage stall, so to speak) and make NASCAR Heat 4 the NASCAR game we hoped this one would be. This is no championship contender, but NASCAR Heat 3 has enough power under the hood to finish the race, whether it’s on the lead lap or not.